Current domestic violence theory is limited by the idea that people’s most intimate relationships are with their romantic/sexual partners or spouses. I live in a community that has a lot of shared housing and frequently has more fluid partnering. People depend on each other differently than in the classic nuclear family. So when some friends and I started thinking about the limitations of how people think about and deal with domestic violence, the intimacy question was an obvious place to start.

We coined intimate violence as a term for the controversial feminist understanding that abusive relationships are complicated, that abuse is complicated, and that these relationships usually cannot be narrowed down along simple good guy/bad guy lines. The concept of IV widens and deepens current, common understandings of domestic violence, not negating but moving beyond the cycle of violence to look at more complicated power dynamics that exist in most abuse relationships – whether between sexual partners, housemates, family members, or good friends. This concept addresses the complexities of abuse that happens between same sex partners, between documented survivors and undocumented abusers, etc., i.e. between people who don’t fit the model of “she stays in the relationship with this abusive man because she’s economically or societally forced to.”

Implicit in this concept is that perceptions, understandings and solutions to abuse have to come from within social circles of people who are educated about the issue and who understand and are invested in each other. The model that has experts speaking to large groups of people who don’t (or hardly) know each other doesn’t work for a variety of reasons, including that not everyone agrees on what abuse is, on what appropriate relationships look like, and on how to talk about these things. Obviously, people do need to be educated about abuse – how acts can be problematic even when they’re common behavior, how models of relationship that are promoted all over the culture are in fact conducive to violence and unhappiness. But that “education” has to stop at some point and allow people to determine for themselves and their intimates (by which I mean tight, trusted friends) what they believe appropriate relationships look like for themselves and each other. The model we came up with for this could be called the peer group process.